Alaska Flyfishing Road Rules

Two years ago I got an assigment to traverse Montana for a week, fly fishing a different river every day with my good friend Mark Wizeman, spending no more that $150 per man per day to eat, sleep, and cover any other expenses. We pulled it off, and when I returned I posted The 33 Rules of the Trout Fishing Road. Last August, we were sent out again to do the same thing in Alaska on $200 a day. This time trout and salmon were the targets, and motels were replaced with an RV. You can find the story, "The Alaska Experiment," in the July 2009 issue of Field & Stream. But here is a behind-the-scenes look at this adventure, complete with a new set of road rules and dirt you won't find in print.Joe Cermele
Rule #1: Maps are good, but maps with notes written on them by local fly shop guys are better. If you've never been to Alaska, you can't imagine the amount of water there is to fish. Our pre-trip research got us in the ball park, but the fellas at World Wide Angler Outfitters in Anchorage narrowed down our best bets for the week. They were right on the money in every spot.Mark Wizeman
Rule #2: Ground beef, veggies, hotdogs, and most other standard campfire delicacies are the same price in Alaska as truffles and Kobe beef in the finest New York City gourmet grocery store. But ramen noodles, my friends, are dirt-cheap no matter where you find them. On a budget in a land of great expense, Top Ramen is your best buddy...and food of the Gods, I might add.Mark Wizeman
Rule #3: August is a bit late for the king salmon run, but just the right time to accidentally step on a rotting king carcass, thus infusing the felt on your soles with a pungent aroma of squishy stuff that can only be deodorized by dousing your boots in gasoline and dropping a match.Joe Cermele
Rule #4: That's what friends are for.Joe Cermele
Rule #5: Approach bunnies with caution. The Willow Creek Resort (meaning RV Park) is mildly famous for the abundance of "pet" rabbits on the property. They look friendly enough, but they are pure evil and should not be trusted.Joe Cermele
Rule #6: Don't play the fly ethics card, just fish. I'll admit it's debatable whether egg beads are flies or not, but what isn't up for debate is their fish-catching power. If you only have limited time to fish in Alaska, give the rainbows and Dolly Varden what they want. However, hue choice is key, so ask a local fly shop for the killer colors--of which there are hundreds.Mark Wizeman
Rule #7: It's not always easy, but don't get too wrapped up in salmon. I caught this rainbow on Willow Creek, which was recommended for its big trout. Salmon were everywhere and it took some will power to keep us from fishing to them all day, but focussing on trout haunts and letting the salmon swim on by paid off.Mark Wizeman
Rule #8: If you want to pack some heat, don't sweat it. We flew a 12-gauge out for our trip to ease our East Coast minds worried about Northwest grizzlies, though using it would have been an absolute last resort, with our bear spray being the first defense. But we never saw a bear the entire trip. In hindsight, the gun may have been overkill, but if you too feel the need to bring one, don't worry that you'll look like a weirdo. Many people pack in Alaska. Seriously. Shotguns are a dime a dozen on the rivers and I think I even saw an old lady walking out of church with a .30/06 one morning.Joe Cermele
Rule #9: When the track is the size of your head and appears to have been made in the last few hours, crapping your waders is NOT an inappropriate response to hooking a fish near said track and having it splash all around the shallows.Joe Cermele
Rule #10: Get out there. With as many good rivers as there are in Alaska, there is no excuse not to get away from the more famous waters, at least for one day. We traveled a 20-mile-long dirt road to reach Peters Creek, where Mark stuck this nice 'bow. We would catch bigger trout in other places, but not out of eyeshot of other anglers. We worked three miles of Peters Creek without seeing another soul.Joe Cermele
Rule #11: Show grayling some love. The locals didn't seem too excited about catching them, but maybe they never took a close enough look at these guys. Any fish with fins that might be confused with butterfly wings should be cherished.Joe Cermele
Rule #12: You never know what you'll find. Not only was Peters Creek at the end of that 20-mile dirt road, but so was the the Forks Roadhouse. This honky-tonk bar was truly in the middle of nowhere and run completely on generators. Granted, two burgers weren't cheap, but the beer was cold and decor was fantastic.Joe Cermele
Rule #13: You can always gauge the local boredom factor of any area by the number of bullet holes in the road signs.Joe Cermele
Rule #14: Rock the boat. You can't beat a price of $50 per person for Mahay's River Boat Service in Talkeetna to run you up to Clear Creek. Though lots of people shoot up to fish for silver salmon at the mouth where it meets the Talkeetna River, not many patrons hike way upstream. We did, and though the silver salmon action was slow, we battled chums and pinks all day and had blast doing it.Joe Cermele
Rule #15: Pink salmon don't have much fight, but they got lots of bite. Watch your fingers. Mark learned this lesson the hard way while unhooking one.Joe Cermele
Rule #16: If you do catch a salmon tooth to the finger, a stretchy piece of sunglass cleaning cloth and a bit of tippet is enough to keep you casting for the rest of the day.Joe Cermele
Rule #17: Take what you can get. I know, I know, silver salmon are the preferred target of the late-summer runs, but chum, a.k.a. dog salmon, pull just as hard, if not harder. After a few hours on Clear Creek, we stopped caring that the silvers seemed to avoid the upstream runs and just let our arms tire on dirty dogs. If you ever end up in this situation, I'd recommend you do the same.Mark Wizeman
Rule #18: Mind your manners. This photo was taken at 10:30 p.m., right after we pulled into the RV park. Coming from the East, the late-night sun kinda threw us off. We talked loudly and blasted our radio for an hour before realizing that it was so quite because everyone was sleeping. We got the message when a few camper curtains slid open and groggy eyes gave us nasty looks.Joe Cermele
Rule #19: When you're on the Kenai Peninsula, please make time to forget the fishing for just a little while and take it all in. If you don't you'll kick yourself once you get home.Mark Wizeman
Rule #20: Forget the Kenai River, hit the Russian. Though the Kenai is perhaps the most famous trout and salmon river on the Peninsula, it's not very budget friendly. If you're on foot, you'll be at a huge loss, as the river is very wide, swift, and milky-blue, making it tough to know where you're stepping. You'll need to float it, but that's expensive. The Russian River, however, is one of the few clear rivers in the area, wading is easy, and the 'bows are plentiful.Joe Cermele
Rule #21: The angler in you says "no," but your stomach says "yes." The Russian is also loaded with Dolly Varden. True, they are not as prized a catch as rainbow trout, but they make a delicious deviation from those ramen noodles I mentioned earlier. A little lemon pepper makes them even sweeter. This was the finest lunch of the trip.Joe Cermele
Rule #22: The angler in you should say "yes." Like I said, Dollies aren't rainbows, but I like a deep bend in a 6-weight rod no matter what's making it. And the big Dollies in Quartz Creek just up the road from the Russian create a nice arc. In fact, they fought so hard and were so plentiful, it was downright tough to walk away from the river and head to Ninilchik that evening.Mark Wizeman
Rule #23: If you're traveling the Sterling Highway down to the west coast of the Kenai Peninsula, do yourself a favor at stop at Gwin's Lodge in Cooper Landing. We splurged on dinner out one night and man, was it worth it. For $60 total, we dined on salmon chowder, each had a beer, then woofed down a basket of fresh fried halibut. It was the fuel we needed for the 86-mile drive ahead of us that night.Joe Cermele
Rule #24: Fish first, worry about sleeping later. One nice thing about many campgrounds and RV parks in Alaska is that they have "honesty boxes." All you do is pull in, drop your fee in the box, park, and sleep. This is really great when you don't want to travel on a schedule or worry about making reservations. Ninilchik River Campground luckily adopted this system, as we didn't pull in until after midnight.Joe Cermele
Rule #25: Stranger things have happened. We spent our last day of the trip on the Ninilchik River, which enters saltwater not a mile from the stretch we targeted. We had gone a week without hooking a silver, and the guys coming up the river trail as we went down were not happy. None of them saw so much as a flash that rainy morning. Considering these guys were fishing bait with nothing to show, imagine my surprise when I connected on my first cast with a Hareball Leech. Miracle fish? To me, yes, but in reality, not so much. Come to find out, when you fish that close to the salt, small tide or wind change are all it takes to get some silvers moving up river. It was a hell of a way to close the trip. We even had enough cash left over for a few Big Macs on our way back to Anchorage, with medium fries for sure...maybe even large.Mark Wizeman

In August of 2008, Joe Cermele and Mark Wizeman fished across Alaska in a motor home with a budget of $200 a day. The duo hit a different world-class trout and salmon river between Denali and Ninilchik every day and spent less than $2,800 on the entire trip. These are photo outtakes from the adventure and some inside dirt on their travels.

Day-by-day details, plus a map, budget breakdown, and gear checklist you can follow to make the same trip, can be found in the July 2009 issue of Field & Stream in the story "The Alaska Experiment."